As I got my hands on We Happy Few during this year’s E3, I expected to feel like an outsider, a refugee escaping from a drug-induced society to the reality of pain. I did, as predicted, get to discover chilling environmental details and meet borderline psychotic neighbors, but I also discovered a strong dose of survival thrown into the mix. It turns out the game is directly inspired by the aspects of XCOM and Don’t Starve more than the Bioshock series it can’t stop reflecting.
My hands-on E3 demo began with an endless loop of drug-induced happiness. At my daily job as a news redactor, I was given the choice whether or not to take my regular Joy pill, a required habit for all residents of Wellington Wells. I chose to take the pill multiple times, and each time Arthur Hastings returned to his daily droll, came into work the next morning, and considered his Joy again.
Arthur considers because of his pain, a flash of grief he feels after coming across a news piece of a family member. It allows him to escape Joy just briefly enough to reject the pill, should you choose to end the infinite loop.
As was shown in We Happy Few’s E3 presentation, my coworkers quickly realize I’ve become a “Downer,” a revolting person who refuses to take their Joy dosage. I escape from security only to encounter the game’s true gameplay: survival. I wandered the streets in search of materials, anything to lessen my crippling hunger and thirst. I’m chased by any police who notice my presence, and even some fellow Downer squatters who noticed me taking a rest in their bed.
While trying to find my way past a guard post, I noticed a Joy pill in my inventory, and quickly ingested it. Because why wouldn’t I instantly ingest the very drug I was trying to escape from. The world turned twelve shades of pink, rainbows flashed across the sky, and Arthur swung his arms freely in the air as he ran. It seems as though this will be a tool for blending in, as citizens are exceptional at noticing anyone acting slightly off.
Crafting seems to be an especially deep mechanic, filled with recipes for everything from lockpicks to sneakers to mechanical parts. Though We Happy Few will star multiple characters in procedurally generated environments, they will all need to collect, craft, and eventually escape their town. Honestly, the idea of collecting materials and managing my health was a gameplay vein I never predicted for the title, but I can’t say it will detract from it.
Exploring an anachronistic dystopia is a well-worn fantasy, one that’s obviously exciting but risks serving too little in terms of engaging gameplay. We Happy Few’s survival aspects, though more dutiful than one might prefer for such a thematic idea, may just be exactly what it needs to deliver a memorable experience.